Golf is the only sport I’ve heard of that is frequently used as a business facilitator. The executive wooing a potential client or business partner over a round of golf is a common stereotype; maybe it’s the slow pace of the game and the relative isolation of the course that makes it ideal for serious discussions. In any case, the golf course is a common venue for business transactions, or, sometimes, new businesses altogether. It was during a round of golf that Penn State students R.T. Custer and Tyler Wolfe came up with the idea to start Vortic Watches in 2013.
While watches aren’t exactly obsolete, they’re evolving much in the way of the phone, in that they’re increasingly being designed to do much more than tell time. As a culture, we’re becoming less impressed with devices that have only one purpose. Why buy a separate timepiece when you can wear a multitasking miniature computer that tells time, accesses the Internet, monitors your heart rate and physical activities, and receives text messages? For that matter, why wear a watch at all when your cell phone is in your hand at all times? Wolfe disagrees.
“I’ve always worn a watch and I actually use it to tell time,” he says. “I hate to take my phone out of my pocket.”
At one time, watches needed to be taken out of pockets, as well, but the pocket watch is rarely used as a functional timepiece anymore. After the fateful golf outing in which Custer and Wolfe started talking the possibility of building a business around watches, they began researching, and discovered that many people in possession of pocket watches had been scrapping them for the gold and silver cases. The complex inner workings, which Custer describes as “mini engines,” were being discarded.
Thus the idea for Vortic Watches was born. Unsure if the idea would take, Custer and Wolfe launched a Kickstarter campaign, attempting to raise $10,000 for a new business plan that would involve restoring the inner mechanisms of old pocket watches and turning them into wristwatches. The money was raised in 12 hours. After the full 30-day campaign concluded, $41,000 had been pledged. Clearly, there were a lot of people with a fondness for the vintage and handmade.
“‘American made’ is hot right now, and there is a huge market ready to support it,” says Custer. “Our goal is to build a company with enough credibility and engineering prowess to help bring mechanical movement manufacturing back to the United States.”
Partnering with several professional watchmakers, Custer and Wolfe began their business, partnering with several professional watchmakers and a “picker” who travels around the East Coast seeking out and buying old pocket watches. Some of the inner mechanisms are up to 100 years old, and they are restored using only original, antique tools and supplies. The casings, however, despite their antique look, are ultra-modern. Each case is 3D printed in stainless steel or bronze; according to Vortic, they are the only watch company currently using metal 3D printing for final product parts. The watch inserts are 3D printed as well on a Formlabs Form 1+ stereolithography printer, after being custom-designed to fit each mechanism using Solidworks.
So far, the business has been wildly successful. Custer and Wolfe have sold about 150 watches for $2,000-$3,000 each, and their shop, based in Fort Collins, Colorado’s Jessup Farm Artisan Village, has nearly sold out its stock of American Artisan Series watches. The pair intends to launch another Kickstarter this summer to raise the funds to start a new, more modern-looking collection. Despite the convenience and novelty of modern smart watches, it seems many people still harbor a lot of nostalgia and desire for quality, handmade craftsmanship.
“It brings you back to a time when a lot of this stuff we take for granted didn’t exist,” Custer says. “You have to manually wind it every day and every time you wind our watch you are reminded there is a 100-year-old timepiece inside.”
Let’s hear your thoughts on this story in the 3D Printed Vortic Watch forum thread on 3DPB.com.
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